About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me.
Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. It was light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I was met with a sickening surprise.
Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestements. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, some gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully.
“Who is dead in the White House?” I demanded of one of the soldiers.
“The President,” was his answer; “he was killed by an assassin!”
Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which awoke me from my dream.
This dream was apparently had by Abraham Lincoln himself and he relayed the dream to a friend in a letter. Could the President have been dreaming about his own assassination? I wonder if his friend would have replied by telling him that he was being silly? We’ll never know the answer to these questions as the letter was dated April 12th 1865, merely three days before his assassination in Fords Theatre at the hands of John Wilkes Booth.
Given what happened thirteen days after that dream, one might surmise that Lincoln’s assassination was written in the stars, an unavoidable fate that he somehow accessed ahead of time and bore witness to. One might also surmise that it’s a hell of a coincidence. Personally I prefer to think of it as a bit of both but there is more evidence to consider in this case, particularly the matter of Robert Todd Lincoln.
Robert, who looked a little like Johnny Depp, was Abraham’s eldest son and would grow to become what many people would consider to be a bad luck charm. He didn’t make it to the theatre on time to see his father’s assassination thankfully, arriving shortly afterwards, but this near miss was something that would follow him through his political career. While acting as James Garfield’s Secretary of War, he was at the Sixth Street Train Station in Washington D.C. on July 2nd 1881 when Charles Guiteau shot and killed Garfield. Perhaps catching up to fate at last, Robert was an eyewitness to that event and it wouldn’t be his last brush with presidential assassination as Robert was present at not one, but two of them after his father died. The second event was in 1901 when, at the President’s invitation, Lincoln went to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo. This was September 6th and President William McKinley was shot and killed there by Leon Czolgosz. Robert was not an eyewitness to this event but the fact that yet another United States President had been assassinated around him must have shaken him quite badly. He received one final presidential invitation to an event in his career and declined with the following words “No, I’m not going, and they’d better not ask me, because there is a certain fatality about presidential functions when I am present.”
Good old “Honest” Abe. Despite the inconvenience of that event he still gave the place two stars.
Even this isn’t the strangest thing about the Abraham Lincoln case. That goes to an event that took place in January of 1865 (the actual month is unknown and is thought to be late 1864 or early 1865, but you’ll see it makes a certain poetic sense to have it in January) that involved Robert Lincoln. The event, which took place on a train platform in New Jersey, almost saw Lincoln lose his life. I’ll let him tell the rest of the story as he did in a letter many years later.
The incident occurred while a group of passengers were late at night purchasing their sleeping car places from the conductor who stood on the station platform at the entrance of the car. The platform was about the height of the car floor, and there was of course a narrow space between the platform and the car body. There was some crowding, and I happened to be pressed by it against the car body while waiting my turn. In this situation the train began to move, and by the motion I was twisted off my feet, and had dropped somewhat, with feet downward, into the open space, and was personally helpless, when my coat collar was vigorously seized and I was quickly pulled up and out to a secure footing on the platform. Upon turning to thank my rescuer I saw it was Edwin Booth, whose face was of course well known to me, and I expressed my gratitude to him, and in doing so, called him by name.
Edwin Booth saved the life of the son of Abraham Lincoln only a few months before his brother, John Wilkes Booth, would take the life of Abraham Lincoln himself. At the time Edwin had no idea who he had saved and it was only when Robert relayed the story to a mutual friend after his father’s assassination that Edwin would find out. The friend, knowing that Edwin was having trouble coming to terms with what his brother had done, wrote him a letter informing him that the boy he had saved was Lincoln’s son. It is said that this helped Edwin and was some comfort to him in later years.